Saturday, March 03, 2012

Building fashions and external louvres

click photos to enlarge
Building fashions come and go; they have always done so. During my lifetime I've experienced fads and fancies as diverse as concrete with the wood shuttering imprint deemed suitable for external walls, glass and aluminium cladding, external glass lifts, X-braces on skyscrapers, tensioned plastic awning roofs and much else. As the millennium approached it seemed that no superstore or industrial estate offices was complete without an entrance picked out with a partially glazed metalwork structure in blue or red. In recent years an increasing number of new flats, offices and other buildings have been sheathed with slats of hardwood that very quickly pick up stains from rainwater.

The dark cuboid block on the right of the building in today's main photograph of the Boathouse Business Centre is faced in just that kind of wood, and exhibits just that kind of problem. However, it's not the modern use of timber that I've been thinking about recently; rather, it's the proliferation of aluminium aerofoil fin louvres. If any one detail marks out a building as being constructed in the past dozen or so years its these high-tech slats fitted to manage solar gain. They are mounted on the outside of the wood-faced block above. You can see them on the building in the smaller photograph - the Red Lion Quarter in Spalding. There are further examples on my photograph of Hayes Wharf Tower, Lincoln, and even this car park in King's Lynn has a facade that mimics them. Are these louvres the only way that architects can deal with solar gain? Of course not, but they are fashionable, and clients surely like to feel that a building they commission is of its time. And it seems that, at the moment that means these aluminium fins.

Incidentally, when I was looking at the Red Lion Quarter building it occurred to me that, in coming up with the elevation that I've photographed, the architect looks like he's been influenced by 1930s cinema design. The small flight of steps leading to the glass doors, the slight overhang with columns, the bordered horizontal window band above, all say to me English "moderne", a variant of Art Deco beloved of pre-war cinema architects.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On